Maryland Needs to Act Fast to Fight High Eviction Rates
Editor's note: This story is ongoing - updates were published on 5/6/21.
With the federal moratorium on residential evictions coming to an end, local governments and officials are advocating for low-income individuals who are unsure about their future housing. Thousands of Marylanders remain on edge about eviction cases that are already in the courts and those yet to come. The Maryland judiciary committee has indicated that it will resume hearing eviction cases starting July 25th. But how did we get here, and what do real estate agents need to understand about this current climate?
What Is the Federal Moratorium?
The moratorium was part of the federal government’s Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, which was passed by Congress in March 2020. It was created to aid those impacted by the pandemic and was mandated to be in effect for 120 days.
On top of the federal moratorium, Governor Lawrence Hogan Jr. also put a temporary halt on evictions back in March 2020 through an executive order that prevented evictions as long as Maryland’s state of emergency was active. This measure was originally scheduled to end on 3/31/2021 but was later extended to 5/3/2021. As of 4/29/2021, the "moratorium on new residential foreclosures has been extended through the end of June...[and] this next extension lines up with the federally set expiration date," per WDVM. Now, as both the state and federal moratoriums are coming to an end, advocates are pleading with Gov. Hogan to address this issue before it becomes a crisis.
Maryland’s Unemployment Is the Link to High Eviction Rates
With a massive uptick in unemployment due to coronavirus shutdowns, many tenants in the state are at risk of losing housing. As of writing, Maryland’s unemployment rate is ~6%, on par with the national average, but lower than the peak (9%) the state experienced in April 2020. The Fair Action Housing Center of Maryland has seen a 400% increase in clients compared to last year according to Carol Ott, the center’s tenant advocacy director.
“We’re going to see a flood of evictions,” Ott said. “Baltimore City in particular has the highest eviction filing rate in the state. It’s not unreasonable to imagine that it could be almost double the normal filing rate, simply because so many people lost their only sources of income.”
Baltimore has allocated around $13 million for rental assistance, but officials said the city might need much more to avoid mass evictions. Local government officials and advocates are now calling on Gov. Hogan to provide more than $150 million in additional funding for rental relief and have demanded that he expand his current eviction and utility shut-off moratoriums.
What Maryland Can Do to Combat Eviction Rates
Landlords are joining forces with tenants and are asking Governor Hogan to create statewide rental assistance funds. Officials have cited that federal efforts, like an additional $600 in weekly unemployment benefits, have been effective sources of aid for tenants. Outside of federal support, local governments can help tenants by passing ordinances addressing evictions and rent control.
Natasha Mehu, the Maryland Association of Counties’ legislative director, said a number of counties have set up their own programs to provide rental relief. If you’re looking for a way to assist, look up your local government officials and urge them to pass ordinances that protect low-income and at-risk populations from evictions. While this situation is an ongoing issue, the fight to prevent an eviction crisis will take all of us!
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